Experts have issued a warning — climate change is no longer just a threat as the world faces the impacts of extreme weather events and climate-induced disasters like never before. The rising alarm has prompted industries, companies and individuals to adopt sustainability and curb emissions. One area of particular interest is building energy-efficient homes.
While perhaps not as prominent as the industrial or agricultural sectors, the residential sector accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Operating kitchen appliances, running the air conditioner and turning on the lights consume ample electricity. Even a leaky window or poor insulation leads to overconsumption of energy.
If the world is to combat climate change head-on, energy efficiency from the ground up must be a priority in 2024. Here is a closer look at the benefits of a sustainable residential sector, the elements of an energy-efficient home and the challenges industry professionals must overcome.
The State of Climate Change in 2023
Climate change awareness is widespread, as evident in the numerous government, corporate and public actions to mitigate the effects. However, is it enough?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, November 2023 marked the hottest month on record in 174 years. Global surface temperatures reached 2.07 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1991–2000 average of 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
This news came after the International Renewable Energy Agency reported a potential 16-gigaton emissions gap by 2050 after global 2022 plans fell short of current climate targets.
Extreme weather events were all too common in 2023, likely attributed to increasing climate change. Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest extent ever, while extensive drought affected various parts of the nation. In July, wildfires swept through Canada, billowing smoke over the U.S. border — an astounding 11.5 million hectares of Canadian forests burned.
Meanwhile, although wind and solar power rose 17% from 2021 to 2022, it stayed 15 times lower than fossil fuel consumption. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further exacerbated this as European countries transitioned from Russian fuel supplies to coal to meet energy demands.
Benefits of Energy-Efficient Homes in 2024
Indeed, the end of 2023 demonstrated the world has a long way to go to stay ahead of climate change — which is why energy-efficient homes are critical moving forward. The residential and commercial sectors accounted for 13% of global GHG emissions in 2021.
The following outcomes underscore the benefits of building homes for energy efficiency:
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) homes use 20%-30% less energy, potentially saving 60%.
- Energy-efficient homes have better indoor air quality with fewer air pollutants.
- LEED homes may qualify for tax credits, lower homeowners’ insurance premiums and other incentives, making building costs comparable to non-green structures.
- Homeowners save money on electricity and utility costs.
- Sustainable homes often have more comfortable living environments with improved insulation and less moisture.
- Homes with greater energy efficiency often have a higher market value — 17% of real estate agents report a 1%-10% increase in home values with high-performance, green features listed.
Current Innovations in Residential Energy Efficiency
The latest technologies and innovations in the energy industry have streamlined transitions to a greener residential sector. Experts can build energy-efficient homes utilizing these developments in the following ways.
Building and Design Elements
Homeowners and energy professionals have begun integrating green features into residences for years. Today, it is not uncommon to come across a home with state-of-the-art appliances and light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs. For instance, LEDs can reduce electricity consumption by 90%, lasting 25 times longer than conventional lighting.
Other building and design elements in energy-efficient homes include:
- Sustainable building materials, such as bamboo, reclaimed wood or recycled steel
- Proper insulation and air sealing
- Energy-efficient HVAC units, including water heaters and furnaces
- Proper placement of air vents
- Programmable thermostats
- Efficient windows and window treatments
- Cool roofs — reflective materials preventing heat absorption from sunlight
Unique home designs could also include a rooftop garden with a flat roof. Rooftop gardens deliver natural insulation during colder months and reduce indoor heat through evapotranspiration. This ensures home environments remain at a comfortable temperature, reducing HVAC energy outputs.
Smart Home Automation
Predictions suggest 57% of Americans will own a smart home device by 2025. Currently, most people have virtual assistant technologies, smart speakers, smart security systems and smart televisions. Many may not realize these devices can optimize energy efficiency at home.
Smart home automation connects one’s smartphone to various devices — thermostats, lighting, appliances, alarms, blinds, sprinkler systems and more. For instance, homeowners can control when their sprinklers turn on, allowing them to conserve water. The same goes for switching lights on and off.
Smart thermostats significantly impact at-home energy efficiency, with geofencing features automatically adjusting the temperature to the preferred setting before homeowners arrive. Some also have motion sensors to adjust the indoor temperature according to the number of occupants in a room.
Residential solar power is prevalent among energy-efficient homes. According to the Pew Research Center, solar panel installations rose 34% from 2020 to 2021 in the U.S. After an extension of the 30% renewable energy tax credit in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, experts predict residential solar will continue climbing.
Of course, wind power and geothermal heating systems are becoming just as important in the renewable energy mix. As the U.S. prioritizes sustainable home construction in 2024, clean energy integration will become even more widespread.
Challenges and Solutions for Industry Professionals
Raising awareness of the challenges and solutions surrounding residential energy efficiency is critical. Poor education about clean energy technologies, lax building codes and higher upfront costs could hinder progress.
For example, North Carolina’s Building Code Council sought to update building standards to meet energy efficiency, imposing stricter requirements for roofs, walls, insulation and HVAC systems. However, in 2023, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature presented a new bill delaying energy-efficient building code updates until 2031, setting the state back in its climate efforts.
Building and energy professionals must advocate for improved building codes in 2024 if broader residential energy efficiency is to be made possible. Obtaining voluntary LEED or ENERGY STAR certification can also set professionals apart from industry peers.
Understanding the advances in green building technologies and how innovations can achieve net-zero emissions at home is a start. Likewise, an in-depth understanding of smart home automation, financial incentives and assistance programs can encourage homeowners to pursue residential construction with energy efficiency in mind.
Energy-Efficient Homes Are the Future
The energy sector is on track to transform other sectors for sustainability in the coming years, particularly commercial and residential construction. This year marks an opportunity to spearhead energy-efficient homes to stay ahead of climate change effects in the future.